How to Read a Criminal Background Report

12 Criminal Non-Conviction Terms You Should Know

Have you ever conducted a criminal records check, only to be confused by the jargon in the report? Reading a criminal background report can be a daunting task - trying to decipher the terminology used by the courts. There are multiple terms used to convey that a charge is a non-conviction, and the terms used in any given court jurisdiction around the country can fluctuate while essentially meaning the same thing. To help you understand those reports a little better, here are the 12 most commonly used criminal non-conviction terms:

1. Adjudication Withheld
Many jurisdictions have a procedure in criminal cases allowing an accused person to essentially admit to the charges and be placed on probation, which usually includes a specific program or community service obligation which they have a specified amount of time to complete. If the defendant complies, the case may be dismissed, depending on the county and/or state. If they do not dismiss the charges in that particular county and/or state, then the disposition remains, “adjudication withheld” and the case is closed.

2. Deferred Judgment
The defendant has no finding of guilt. The judgment is set aside for a deferred amount of time and the defendant must comply with any conditions given to him/her. The case may be dismissed depending on the county and/or state if the defendant completes all requirements.

3. Dismissal
A final disposing of the case without further consideration. This is generally due to a decision not to prosecute further or failure to produce sufficient evidence.

4. Diversion Program
To set aside. A court direction, which calls for a defendant who has been found guilty to attend a work or educational program as part of probation. May include some type of anger management, drug rehab, etc… If the conditions of the program are met, the charge may be considered a non-conviction.

5. No Bill or True Bill
The decision by a grand jury that it will not bring indictment against the accused on the basis of the allegations and evidence presented by the prosecutor.

6. Nolo Contendere / No Contest
The defendant has pled, “no contest” to the charges against him or her. Therefore, the court finds him or her guilty and decides to sentence but not convict.

7. Nolle Prosse / Nolle Prosequi
This is essentially a dismissal of the case. There was not enough evidence to convict the defendant.

8. Stet Docket
Will not prosecute at this time. Eligible to be re-opened for one year if a violation is committed during that time. After one year, if no violations have been committed, it cannot be re-opened and the case is closed.

State-Specific Non-Conviction Terms

The first eight are general terms that are seen consistently in courts throughout the country. There are some states however that have adopted certain terminology that may be more recognizable within that state.

9. ARD (Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition)
This is usually found in the State of Pennsylvania. This program is given to the defendant in place of adjudication. If the defendant completes the program, the case is closed.

10. First Offenders Program
In the state of Georgia, upon fulfillment of the terms of probation, upon release by the court prior to the termination of the period thereof, or upon release from confinement, the defendant shall be discharged without court adjudication of guilt. The discharge shall completely exonerate the defendant of any criminal purpose and shall not affect any of his civil rights or liberties and the defendant shall not be considered to have a criminal conviction.

11. Prayer for Judgment
Often seen in North Carolina, it falls under deferred prosecution, meaning the state did not prosecute. For example, with worthless checks it gives the defendant a chance to pay the check before being charged.

12. Stricken Off Leave
Often seen in Illinois, the case has been stricken off the docket with the ability to reinstate at a later date if deemed that the case can be prosecuted. This is often because the prosecutors run out of time to prosecute.

It is very easy to feel overwhelmed with the various court jargons out there but it is always best to have an understanding of the terminology to assist in reading criminal background reports. Most courts do have a directory of terms listed on their websites for assistance. For more definitions, see our glossary of public record terms.